Tuesday, October 9, 2007

walking into the sun

It looks like Flamingo liked my blog because they awarded me the video iPod for being their favorite. Thanks Flamingo!

And as a final post, here's a brilliant marketing concept from Nike: the no-car, pro-run campaign.

I really enjoyed blogging here; who knew I had so much to say about running? So I might just keep this up on my regular site.


Friday, September 28, 2007

Phanthom limbs

Jo asks, "Without running - what would you miss?"

My sanity. Movement. Clarity of mind. Pure bodily exertion--which is more concentrated in running than any other sport. Testing and extending my stamina--which is a journey more than a destination. Deep breathing: I breath through my nose when I run--almost exclusively--because it keeps my throat from drying. As a yoga practitioner will tell you, deep breathing happens through your nose. Now, imagine doing that at six, seven or eight mph--yeah, yoga just doesn't cut it for me.

Experiencing more.
In a car all the scenery passes by quickly as a blur. When you're walking you might look around and see interesting things. But sometimes, when you're running--and all your little dendrites line up right and start sparking with electricity--then you can be moving and taking in the view with almost surreal precision. All of a sudden, every detail seems to be jumping out at you.

I know, no more kool-aid for me. But you did threaten me with a rather harsh prospect: no more running?!? I would miss
being me.

A running mantra

Runners like to have little mantras, especially for the distance. Sometimes these are favorite phrases, quotes, short poems or even one word catalysts for action. One of my own, that's emerged from a latent brain distracted by a steady pace:

It's not about where you are, it's about what direction you're moving in.

As with all good running mottos, it's hokey, simple and speaks directly to me. For instance, it does indeed matter 'where you are'--that's your starting point, mentally or physically. But the gist of the mantra is: if you're feeling on top of the world now, that's great but this is a long race. And if you're feeling slow now, don't worry--moving forward is the most important thing you can do now to go faster.

And, as is true of other great lessons of running, the mantra's meaning extends to life in general.

Olympian, just a little

Not everyone can be an Olympian or the first to break the four-minute mile record. Most people don't even run to race; there are no competitors that you're struggling to leave in the dust. There is no overflowing stadium of screaming spectators and bullhorn announcers.

When you watch these videos--ignore the announcers; ignore the crowds. For the runners, all that exist are themselves, those moving trees they're trying to pass, and possibly the music.

. The music? You know, the victory music--not dubbed-in by the director or playing on the speakers, but in your heart and head. Running your best makes you feel just a little bit like a champion in your own small world and run. It's not about beating the competition; you are the competition. It's not about passing competitors; you're trying to leave the trail in the dust. There's no one in particular watching to bear witness, but you don't need a judge. You don't need to decide if it was a good run; your body will tell you. And when it does, if it's a good run, you don't need Jerry Bruckheimer to step in and cue the soundtrack. There are some--special, few--moments when running makes the tried and abused anthems we hear blaring in the background of inspirational sports movies sound perfectly apropos.

I watched a documentary last night about the music scene in Iceland (which is surprisingly rich and rockin) and one of the musicians said: "Music is the ultimate art form. It passes your head and goes straight to your heart...Music creates a physical response." Now imagine doing something that makes you feel like an inspirational, effusive sports movie soundtrack is springing right out of you, and it's not corny at all.

(FYI: that's why they call it a 'runner's high')

'Do you want to win today?'

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The shoes

OK, so I have to do a post about my running shoes. There's no piece of equipment that matters more for a runner and I just got a brand-spankin new pair.

Pictured at right are the Asics Hyper-Rocket Girl XCs, in Turquoise/Lightning/Iris. And it's probably one of the more interesting purchases I've ever made, in terms of method.

I bought these shoes mainly because I liked the name and how they looked. I never tried them on before buying them. I relied solely on my previous experiences with this brand of shoes and customer reviews. And, despite my love for the look of the color combination--I overcame my strong, long-standing and continuing distaste for the color turquoise. (Just in case you were wondering what my favorite color is--now you know what it's not.)

I do not usually make purchases this way. But, this was sort of a novelty buy and it's worked out great. The suckers are finally broken in and I'm feeling quite like the hyper rocket girl in them. So, there. Branding works.

However, I would not recommend people buy shoes this way--- I just happen to have a strong understanding of what shoes work for me, even at a two-dimensional distance. As well, I first spied the pair under rare circumstances, for me. I was reading Vogue or some-such girly magazine while running on a treadmill at the gym. As well, it was my first return to a pair of Asics shoes since high school, when I was last at my peak running performance; so (as every company everywhere has always wished) I had an 'emotional connection' to the brand.

Let's just say it was infatuation at first sight. And for what it's worth I feel like an action figure in them-- so snap! Sometimes, a nice little athletic present to yourself is worth it. Hey, snowboarders have artsy boards and baseball players can fetishize gloves, bats and balls--the list goes on. All we runners have is our shoes. A little functional motivation?--sign me up!

I can imagine that when it's winter and everything is steel gray, damp concrete and bland white, I'll be able to look down at my shoes and 'BAM!' -- at least something besides me is "on".

So those are my new shoes. If you can't tell, I like them. Sometimes you just have a to take a chance at infatuation at first sight.
We make a nice pair.

Instant community

What better time to write about the way running makes me feel physically and emotionally than when I'm just back from a run? So, yes, here I am writing with the sweat still glistening, the heart still thumping, and my mouth still achingly dry---it was a very hot day.

It was possibly the hottest day of the year in San Francisco today. My mouth was dry the whole way through, even with drinking water beforehand and hitting two water fountains along the route. So hot, that unlike most sunny afternoons in the Park, there were hardly any runners.

But, whether running on a blistery cold day or a scorching one, I find the runs with fewer people on the path make for closer company. Unlike the weekends, which overflow with a comforting crowd of tourists and weekend-sports buffs, the chill days bring out an odder crowd, no doubt including a sprinkling of fanatics.

Today for instance, on my return route, a man straight-out started waving at me in a friendly manner. It wasn't to flag me down or greet an acquaintance; it was just a common bond some runners occasionally feel with other runners who are otherwise total strangers.

You pass people in just a moment when you're running, so for practical reasons there would be little consequence if your spontaneous bout of camaraderie wasn't well received. But, I've never experienced that. Not that I go around waving at people as I run, like a beauty pageant contestant on an urgent errand.

As is more common, passing runners and I sometimes exchange encouraging smiles or nods of acknowledgment--gestures that seem to say: 'Have a good run!', 'Keep it up; Go team!', or just 'It's good to see someone else out here--because it's dismal out.' You'd never know it if you'd stayed inside, but--without any exaggeration--sometimes stepping out and stumbling upon a serendipitous, momentary community under that fog soup sky can make your day.

Yay, humanity. Now, speaking of 'being human'-- time for a shower.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

That feeling of being alive...

Reader Jo Adams requested that I elaborate on that "feeling of being alive", which I referred to earlier.

Describing running as bringing out "that feeling of being alive" might sound a little ambiguous if you're sitting statically and reading it from a computer screen, even for a regular runner. Of course, that's because there's little chance that at rest the body can fully, mentally replicate or recall the state of endorphin-soaked mind and muscle-throbbing body that results from a good run. But it's not just a rush of the chemicals of happiness, is it? There's something more to a good run that confirms a sense of well being, actualizes it and makes one hunger for more, even perhaps when the muscles will no longer give.

What is 'that'?

Bounding about on two legs is a bit un-modern, isn't it? I mean, for an urbanite, there's unlikely a practical reason: you're not trying to get anywhere in a hurry and you're not fleeing a woolly buffalo (unless, perhaps, the fences have come down in Golden Gate Park). In fact, it's a bit primal. You run, just to run. It is, as the philosopher Socrates described the greatest good, "an end unto itself". That's the start of an explanation.

A good run is like an intoxicating cocktail: one part pure hedonism, despite at times being physically grueling; one part the pleasurable chemical rush of endorphins; one part exerting your mental stamina and pushing, step by step, to reach your personal goals; and, if you're lucky, one part losing yourself in some beautiful scenery and your thoughts in the transitory timelessness of a run.

On a Good Run, every inch of your body and mind is screaming: you are alive and life is good. It's the irrational exuberance of you proving in your own, small way that indeed it is--your running has made it so.